Reflections from Learning Development

The role of a Learning Development (LD) tutor is to support students in reaching their full potential, ensuring they are equipped to leave University with the skills and most importantly the confidence to begin their employment journey. When supporting students with academic skills research has clearly shown that embedded support is the most effective (Wyatt, 2011). However, understanding a student’s previous experience of academic support makes tailoring and delivery of effective support easier for a LD tutor. This is where this project has been invaluable as a tutor, not only from the point of supporting the students’ academic skills but understanding the whole picture; why they came to University, their work commitments, their experiences and previous qualifications etc.

As an education learning development tutor I have worked closely with the Early Years team with embedded support for first year students. Each year the sessions are examined and adapted to ensure they are meeting the needs of the cohort, I personally enjoy this session as I began my career as a nursery nurse, moving up to manager before changing career paths. However, while my colleagues in LD have worked with social work students in taught sessions, I only had seen them in one to one tutorials. This project has given me the opportunity to work with and understand these students on a deeper level. Working with the Social work team and seeing the different challenges they face has helped me to be a better tutor and given me a fresh perspective.  Moving forward, the plan is to ensure that they have embedded, timely and appropriate support.  This project has reiterated that students need to see LD as part of their programme, not as an add on for it to be truly effective.


Wyatt, L. (2011) Nontraditional Student Engagement: Increasing Adult Student Success and Retention The Journal of Continuing Higher Education.59(1), pp.10-20

Exploring Career Aspirations through Changemaker

As a Career Development Coach in the Changemaker team, my role is to work with students to help them to refine and implement their career goals through one-to-one careers interviews and group workshops. My interest in this research project is linked to my role and the support that the Changemaker team can offer, as well as my personal interest in developing students’ career adaptability arising from my research project competed as part of my MA studies.

Being part of this research project has provided me with an overview of the impact that the students’ previous experiences has on their decisions, whether it is their previous experiences of study, their family influences or a combination of these factors. It has also improved my appreciation and understanding of potential issues that may influence their studies and access to opportunities, e.g. dealing with a range of concerns such as managing their studies alongside their working lives, finances, and families.

Working alongside library and learning support, and academics from the courses involved in the research project, has provided an insight into the range of academic and learning support that is available to students and the contribution that careers guidance and coaching can bring to the team around the student and being ‘super supportive’.

Providing a Career Coaching service to students, which involves providing ongoing support, is part of this, as is the delivery of workshops. For example, in response to the difficulties that students find in identifying and recognising their key attributes skills, a workshop has been jointly developed to help students to identify the skills they are developing whilst on placement.

In future, we will continue to work alongside the academic teams to support students to develop their career aspirations through careers advice/career development coaching as well as providing a programme of workshops delivered as part of the Integrated Learning Support.

Marie Alty

Early Childhood Studies students have aspirations!

Image result for aspirational

As programme leader for the Early Childhood Studies degree programme at the University of Northampton, I engage with students on a regular basis and I thought that I had a good idea of what they were aspiring towards.  What this research has highlighted to me is though, that these students do have aspirations however there is a large majority of them that do not know specifically what they want to do.  They know they want to work with young children but apart from that they don’t know what they want to do.  

Participants in this research indicated a total of 13 different careers that they were aspiring towards, ranging from Early Years Teacher to police officer to social worker.  Of the 25 respondents, 14 of them (56%) listed three or more career possibilities, with three participants (12%) listing six possibilities.  What this indicates is that students are joining this programme with very general ideas of what they are aspiring to however in many cases there is uncertainty.

The impact that this has had therefore on the course is that this uncertainty has provided the impetus to introduce more careers guidance, more focus on skills development and more concentration on how to convert the skills learnt in lectures and on placement to transferable skills for the workplace.

It has also given a slightly different focus for the marketing of this course.  The Early Childhood Studies degree is ideal for those who know that they want to work with young children but are not overly sure what they want to end up doing within this field.  This should therefore be celebrated as a course that can meet the needs of these individuals and marketed accordingly.

Reflections for Childhood and Youth

This post will explore the questionnaire data for BA (Hons) Childhood and Youth and how the data has been used to influence our practice.

Profile of the participants

19 students participated in the questionnaire, out of a cohort of 27. All those who participated are full-time students, 18 are female and 1 male which is representative of the cohort. 15 participants are aged 18-20, and 4 are classed as mature learners as they are over the age of 21.

8 participants identified themselves as “White British”, 5 identified as “British”, 1 identified as “Mixed Other British”, 1 as “Black Caribbean”, 1 as “Black African” and 1 as “Asian/African”. As a course, we have high levels of diversity, with 50% self-reporting as BAME.

Previous educational experiences

Previous study: The majority of participants had studied a BTEC in Health and Social Care (6 participants) or a CACHE Diploma in Early Years (6 participants). 5 students studied A-levels covering a broad range of subjects and 2 students studied an Access to Higher Education qualification.

GCSE attainment: All of the participants stated they had a C or above in GCSE English. Two participants did not have a C or above in Maths and one participant did not complete this question.

Previous support to use the library: 11 participants rated the support they had received to use the library as excellent or good, while 6 stated this support was poor and 2 stated they had not previously received any support. 8 participants stated they never accessed the library, but this may be because their educational setting did not have any library services.

Previous support to use the internet: 12 participants rated the support they had received to use the internet as excellent or good, while 5 stated this support was poor and 1 stated they had not previously received any support.

Previous experiences relating to assessment and feedback: 17 participants stated they used to receive feedback on their draft coursework, with only 2 participants stating this was never received. All participants stated they had received feedback on how to improve their grades. 15 participants stated they had previously experienced assessment dates changing and 11 participants were used to seeing model assessment answers. Proof reading work was commonly experienced by participants, either always (1), often (5) or occasionally (8). This proof reading was most commonly conducted by the educational setting. 15 participants stated they were previously taught how to reference, while 13 were taught the importance of acknowledging the sources used in their work.

Previous experiences of personal tutoring: 8 participants stated tutorials occurred on request and 6 participants explained they had weekly tutorials. The other participants had tutorials on a fortnightly or monthly basis.

Reasons for choosing the university and course

Reasons for choosing to study at the University of Northampton included:

      • liking the university
      • a positive open day experience
      • a positive interview experience
      • the degree
      • close to home
      • recommended by others

Reasons for choosing to study Childhood and Youth centred around their personal experiences, for example, if they had a difficult or traumatic childhood, or conversely if they had experienced a positive family upbringing. Some participants were also influenced by their parents working in a job related to children and young people. This data does highlight that some of our students have had difficult upbringings and may continue to experience difficulties during their studies. This observation is reflected in a later question as 6 participants felt that there were factors that would impact their studies. These reasons revolved around personal family issues, being away from home, missing friends and family, dyslexia, dyspraxia, anxiety, being hearing impaired, lack of self-confidence and lack of time management skills.

Employment status

11 participants stated that they are working alongside their studies, with 8 stating they were not. Of those who were working, 1 participant stated they are working 30 hours, 3 were working 20-24 hours, 2 were working around 10 hours, while 4 appears to be on zero hours contracts. Only one participant stated that their job is linked in some way to work with children and young people.

Career aspirations

The most commonly cited career aspirations included: social work, youth work, youth justice, special educational needs, mental health, primary school teacher and play therapy. 6 participants either left this section blank or answered ‘not sure’.

Key attributes and skills

When asked to list their key attributes the participants highlighted the following:

When asked to list their key skills the participants highlighted the following:

Actions resulting from the questionnaire data

  • The Programme Leader is liaising with local FE providers to create partnerships to boost recruitment. A number of links have been made with course leaders that are responsible for health and social care and early years courses.
  • Sharing information with students about how to retake GCSE Maths during their studies and the importance of this for their employability.
  • Sharing part-time job opportunities for students that are related to work with children and young people. This will help to enhance students’ employability prospects.
  • Working with learning development to enhance students’ study skills and confidence in accessing the library, using the internet and referencing. This was largely addressed in EDU1025 Introduction to Childhood and Youth which is a study skills module. Sessions have also been embedded in other L4 modules.
  • Students are encouraged to share factors that may impact their studies during personal tutorials.
  • Our work-based learning module is supporting students to reflect on and discuss their skills and attributes.

Updated on Transitions and Aspirations project- March 2019





The purpose of this Blog post is to offer an update on the project and to consider the impact that the initial findings has had on the tutor support offered to Social Work Students in level four. 

Why this is important to Social Work:

Social work is a profession that focuses on human connections and human relationships which puts at the heart of its work principles of justice, rights and equity. This project itself has offered scope and space for the Social Work team to reconsider  why individuals apply for Social Work, but also how the support offered by the University is able to ensure that students can thrive.  In many ways this approach is similar to front line Social Work – an understanding of needs and the provision of services/systems/interventions that emancipate and empower individuals, no matter their circumstances. 

The Initial Findings for Social Work:

The initial findings from the project suggest that a range of individuals apply for Social Work for a multiplicity of reasons. These reasons are reflective of wider studies completed by BASW which confirm that personal experiences and narratives have an overwhelming influence in applications for Social Work. This project has also demonstrated the high number of students who will be working whilst studying.  Other key findings  were that a number of students felt that they had benefited from library and academic support whilst at their previous place of study, having regular contact with staff, opportunities for feedback and proof reading were seen as important. 

The impact on Tutor support offered to and for Social Work Undergraduates:

There have been some changes to the way in which we support our level four students. This has been assisted by the introduction of Super PATs and the identification of specific tutors for the level four students. 

The findings from the research have been integrated to and informed the following:

  1. Support and interventions from Library and Learning Services and Learning Development
  2. The regular meetings held between the two level four Personal Academic Tutors
  3. The specific meetings held on a 1-1 with level four students where the focus has been on settling into University, discussing a sense of community, exploring academic skills that need developing. 
  4. Wider planning with the Subject Team to consider impact on level 5 and 6

Robin Sturman-Coombs



Academic Librarians scaffolding students’ developing information skills


Photo of scaffoldingAs Academic Librarians, a key aspect of our role is supporting students to develop skills to find, use and critically evaluate information for their studies and professional careers. Therefore, we were particularly interested in the questionnaire data collected for questions 9- 11, which asked students about their previous library usage and support with using the library.


Our analysis of the questionnaire data has shown that there are no patterns or clear correlations between students’ educational histories and their library usage or support with searching the internet. It appears that this support varied depending on where they studied, rather than their previous qualification, for example, students who had completed A-Levels recorded poor and excellent support on how to use the library. Therefore, it is important that we do not make assumptions about what students already know and instead engage in conversations with them to inform the design and delivery of our teaching and support.


Our model of support is based on a scaffolding approach, involving timely and tailored interventions. These might be in the form of assignment support drop-ins, literature searching workshops and referencing support. The sessions are organised in liaison with Programme Leaders and Module Tutors and embedded within the programmes. In addition to these timetabled sessions, we offer regular drop-ins and one-to-one tutorials that students can access at point of need.


We shall continue to work collaboratively with the programme teams to ensure we deliver relevant and timely support. Proactively engaging with the student voice, whether through planned research or more informal mechanisms such as conversations with students, is an integral part of this process.

Reflections and Challenges

Interviews and Focus Groups

Emails sent, rooms booked, lunch provided, voice recorders booked,  researchers waiting in anticipation and the challenges of research rear their head:

  • Not all students responded to final interview emails
  • Not all students who agreed turned up

Reflections on learning

Students said:

  • they do not always read their emails as they have so many
  • they forgot to come –but still want to be invovled

Next Steps:

Rearrange interviews and focus groups and fingers crossed

Direct students to online support for how to manage emails

Reflection on data from the the Research Team


  • What do we mean about the  concept of “career ready” and what point does that happens.
  • What is the likelihood of accessing support and how we can engage students with support earlier.
  • Thinking about what is the right interventions and support given that students find it hard to articulate strengths


  • Have realised that no assumptions can be made from previous experiences.


  • Overwhelming emphasis on the fact that students do not know what they want to do.
  • Marketing the career opportunities more and really focusing on this at open days/interviews.
  • Careers conference organised.
  • Debates being been held regarding placement and how this fits in around work commitments.

Social Work

  • Learning Development session provided with the sessions based on the research feedback.
  • Integrated previous experiences into PAT sessions and individual tutorials are developing as a result.
  • Considering reasons that students sign up for the course – discussed ways of advertising course in a different way.
  • Academic literacy will be looked at further next year.



Introducing the Team and Initial Findings

Transitions and Aspirations is a collaborative project being undertaken by:

Dr Eunice Lumsden
Tanya Richardson
David Meechan
Robin Sturman-Coombs
Michelle Walker
Dr Kay Calver
Hannah Woods
Gillian Siddall
Marie Altey
Kate Swinton

Progress to Date:

  1.  Initial questionnaires completed and analysed to develop questions for the interview phase
  2. Focus group and individual interviews arranged (though very difficult to engage students in this process, even though they had originally indicated they would participate)
  3. Planning for next steps to take place in January


Some interesting findings from the questionnaires–some snapshots

Research Population

Total: 70 respondents  from 102 across the three programmes.
ECS 25, C&Y 19, SW 26

Working alongside studies

Over half of the respondents were working alongside their studies when they started their degree.

The majority of students were working between 10-30 hours per week.  One student was working full time hours.

Never make assumptionsexperience before coming to UoN

36% of respondents had not had support with how to use a library

90% of respondents had received support with course work

62% had received draft feedback on their work

71% had been advised on how to improve their grade

29% had received model answers

Only 19% choose UoN because of the Open Day experience

98% choose UoN because of the proximity to their home

All respondents struggled to articulate their attributes and skills

What does this mean?

Reflection on how audits of skills, knowledge and experience are key to the induction to HE processes







Welcome to the Blog

The Transitions and Aspirations project takes a holistic approach to exploring how ‘student voice’ can strengthen their first-year experience through enhancing understanding of previous educational experiences, motivations for choice of study and career aspirations.  It is a collaboration between three different degree programmes, across two Faculties, the Changemaker Hub and Library and Learning Services.  Questionnaires, interviews and focus groups will be used to gain base line data and evaluate the project.  It is envisaged that a transferrable model of inclusive practice will emerge to enhance wider practice and the student experience.

This Blog will record our progress.